IN THE SURREAL COURT OF NEW MEXICO
Benson, et.al., Plaintiffs v. All-Hands Insurance Co., Defendant.
JUSTICE HEMLOCK delivered the opinion of the Court.
In what turned out not to be a very good idea, Mark Benson decided to go have a drink with his friend Bill Edmunson. Driving in Benson’s car, they headed to Angelino’s bar, about ten miles south of Troutsville, New Mexico, the small town in which they lived.
They had several beers and then several more. When the time came to leave, both were desperately drunk. Somehow, in their alcohol-induced stupor, they decided that Edmunson was in better shape to drive, so Benson gave him the keys to his car and sat in the front passenger seat.
About three miles up the road, Edmunson drove Benson’s car into a stately — and innocent — Ponderosa Pine tree, causing massive damage to the car and personal injuries to both its drunken inhabitants. Benson’s injuries were minor, but Edmunson’s were significant. Nothing in the record before us discloses what happened to the tree, but trees lack standing to sue, so that doesn’t matter. See Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), Douglas, J., dissenting at 741 et seq.
Benson had no car insurance. Edmunson did, but they were not in Edmunson’s car; they were in Benson’s. All-Hands Insurance Corporation was Edmunson’s insurer. He also had uninsured motorist coverage as a part of that All-Hands policy. Benson, the one with no insurance, sued All-Hands for his injuries and the damage to his car. Edmunson piled on, suing All-Hands for his injuries. And they sued each other too.
Confronted with two drunks, both demanding money from it, the insurance company balked. The law required Benson to have insurance on his car and he didn’t. Edmunson was also guilty. He drove an uninsured car. (The learned trial judge was absolutely right to ignore his pleas that he didn’t know that the car was uninsured. The statute is clear: “No person shall drive an uninsured motor vehicle.” Ignorance is no excuse.)
The trial judge agreed with All-Hands and dismissed the claims against it, leaving the two impecunious drunks to duke it out alone. This appeal followed.
We begin with the scofflaw Benson; required by state law to have insurance, he had none. But that doesn’t answer the question before us: Can he recover for his injuries from Edmunson’s insurance company? Edmunson complied with the law and bought insurance. That insurance policy covered Edmonson from any liability he might have to other people. Benson is such a person under Edmunson’s policy and, if Edmunson caused his damages, he can recover from All-Hands.
So Benson can recover his minor damages from Edmunson and All-Hands has to pay. What about Edmunson? Can he recover for his significant injuries?
Edmunson’s policy insured anyone to whom he might become liable. But Edmunson can’t be liable to himself for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that, if he sued himself, the case caption would be Edmunson v. Edmunson and lawyers would assume it was a divorce case and not read our opinion and what good are our opinions if nobody reads them? See generally, Winchester, “Freedom of Speech, Corporations, and Cats.”
Edmunson’s insurance policy does not protect him from his own negligence, it only protects others from his negligence. Any other outcome would allow Edmunson to sue himself and he can’t do that. This court does not rewrite contracts and this insurance contract says that Edmunson is not insured against himself.
Expecting that ruling, Edmunson has another argument in his quiver: If he isn’t insured under his primary policy, that means he is “uninsured” and can therefore recover from his “Uninsured Motorist” coverage! That argument fares as well as the olive in my martini will this evening.
New Mexico, Edmunson says, has a strong public policy underlying its requirement that everybody ought to have coverage against uninsured drivers. He has the gall to quote our own words to us:
In New Mexico, it is statutorily mandated that insurance companies include in automobile policies uninsured coverage. . . . See § 66-5-301(A), (C). This requirement embodies a strong public policy “to expand insurance coverage and to protect individual members of the public against the hazard of culpable uninsured motorists.” See Romero v. Dairyland Ins. Co., 111 N.M. 154, 156, 803 P.2d 243, 245 (1990).
Well. It is true that Edmunson was uninsured against his own bad driving but that is his fault, no one else’s. We presume that All-Hands would have sold him insurance against himself had he offered to pay for it. (In states with “no-fault” auto insurance laws, All-Hands sells exactly that kind of policy called, “Personal Injury Protection.”) Edmunson cannot be heard to complain about the law in New Mexico. If he doesn’t like it here, he can move. We don’t care.
Besides, All-Hands is a corporation and Mr. Edmunson is merely a natural person. Corporations are creatures of the law. We must treat them every bit as well — if not better — as we treat real persons. Mr. Edmunson is one of God’s creatures and we leave it to God to decide what to do with him. All-Hands Corporation is one of our creations and we take care of our own. Mr. Edmunson cannot recover anything from All-Hands even though he’s the one who paid for the insurance and complied with the law.
We know that the laity may grumble about this result, thinking it unfair. After all, we are punishing Edmunson, who obeyed the law and rewarding the scofflaw Benson, who didn’t. But the law follows logic where ever it leads. Justice Holmes twice wrote that the life of the law has not been logic but experience. Balderdash! (Justice Holmes is overrated anyway. Wrong about logic, he was also wrong about many other things. For examples see, Buck v. Bell (mandatory sterilization), Adkins v. Childrens’ Hospital (women), Schenk v. U.S. (arson), and especially wrong about corporations and illegal monopolization, American Banana Co. v. United Fruit.)
The law and logic of this case flow on like the Mississippi in full flood, inexorable, irresistible, but not always benignant, and we go where it takes us.
AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART.
The persons (natural and unnatural) portrayed in this fake judicial opinion are fictitious. Any resemblance between them and any living person is coincidental. The law described in the opinion may not be the law in your state, however, if you think you are covered by your own insurance policy for your own negligent driving, go read your policy and think again.